Woman’s death in Bukit Batok ruled unfortunate misadventure after fire spread to items she hoarded, Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

Woman’s death in Bukit Batok ruled unfortunate misadventure after fire spread to items she hoarded

A fire in 2019 that resulted in a 60-year-old woman dying from smoke inhalation had spread to the items she hoarded, and her death was ruled an unfortunate misadventure.

In giving his findings on Wednesday, State Coroner Adam Nakhoda said Madam Goh Seow Whay was a rag-and-bone collector and was known to hoard discarded items outside and inside her unit on the 13th storey of Block 210A Bukit Batok Street 21.

Her partner, Mr Ho Swee Lum, 81, had advised her to stop hoarding but she did not listen, said State Coroner Nakhoda.

Jurong-Clementi Town Council (JCTC) had received multiple complaints from neighbours since 2017 about her hoarding and other behaviour which they deemed inconsiderate.

This led to disputes between Madam Goh and her neighbours, which involved threats, shouting and in several cases, the police being called.

On Nov 1, 2019, at around 4.30am, the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) received a call about a fire that broke out at Madam Goh’s unit.

Madam Goh, Mr Ho, and her son, Mr Maverick Chia, 30, were in the flat at the time.


[Fire @ Block 210A Bukit Batok Street 21] Witness how SCDF emergency responders deployed the Combined Platform Ladder 60m to rescue two men from a ledge on the 13th floor.

Posted by Singapore Civil Defence Force on Thursday, October 31, 2019

The two men climbed out of the kitchen window and stood on a ledge until they were rescued, but Madam Goh collapsed in the kitchen.

Neighbours tried to access a fire hose reel inside a cabinet near the burning flat to try to put out the blaze, only to find the cabinet padlocked. Other such cabinets in the block were similarly secured.

SCDF officers managed to get to the hose after cutting the padlock. One of them turned on a valve linked to the hose, but there was no water.

The officers then used other hoses and water from a nearby dry riser to combat the fire, which was put out at around 5.15am.

Firefighters had to make their way through the heavily cluttered flat to rescue Madam Goh, who was taken to Singapore General Hospital. She died on Dec 9.

The coroner’s court heard that JCTC staff members had earlier agreed to have the cabinets locked to prevent vandalism.

Notices were subsequently sent to JCTC, and the matter was rectified. Two men who made the decision to lock the cabinets were given stern warnings.

Water did not flow into the fire hose reel because the pump selector in the pump room on the rooftop of the block had been set to “manual” instead of “auto”, the court heard.

State Coroner Nakhoda said a probable source of the fire was a cigarette butt.

Mr Chia had previously told investigators that he was a smoker but had used an ashtray to put out his cigarettes.

The state coroner also noted that there were many smokers living in the units on the 13th and 14th storeys of the block, but investigations were ultimately unable to ascertain whose cigarette butt could have caused the fire.

He said that strong winds could have blown the butt and embers onto the hoarded items.

State Coroner Nakhoda added that there was no indication that the fire was related to vandalism, unlicensed moneylenders or fire-related harassment.

There was also no evidence to suggest that any of her neighbours had started the fire.

He offered his condolences to the family of Madam Goh, including her son, who turned up in court for the findings.